Martin Place siege speech - 11 February 2015

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (12:28): Earlier this year I visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan. The Americans can be proud, and in fact the world can be proud, that they have created there a noble tribute to those who lost their lives in those terrible events of September 11. It is a most powerful tribute. In many cases the most powerful elements of that tribute are very personal: from a watch or a wedding ring right through to ticket stubs—the mementos of people who had gone to work that day expecting to go home at the end of the day and who were felled in the most cruel circumstances. There were harrowing images, as well, of metal hurtling into metal and silhouettes launching themselves from buildings to a cruel end. I visited there in the aftermath of the terrible events of Martin Place.

These separate events—September 11, December 15—may prompt the question of what was less cruel. Was it more humane to confront the sudden loss experienced on September 11 as opposed to the torture inflicted through the passage of time on those held captive in Martin Place on 15 December in an event that cost the lives of two people: a mother, Katrina Dawson; and a son, Tori Johnson? The truth is both situations were marked by their intense cruelty, and both are condemned with equal vigour by us all. Both prompt us to attend to a vital civic purpose.

Much has been interpreted into the actions of the person who carried out the end crime of 15 December. I cannot enter into the mind—and nor do I seek to—of someone who is prepared to abandon their own humanity by denying the continued humanity of others. His actions must be condemned, they are condemned and they will stand condemned through the passage of time.

Some say that the aim of the terrorist is to distort the way we relate to each other through fear and suspicion, and I say that this is simply an ancillary objective. The principal objective is subjugation—that our way of life be subjugated and that it submit to another where we have no say and where someone else has ultimate and complete dictation of the order of things. But this system of governing the affairs of people has confronted and fallen to the purity and power of the greatest of our attributes: the attribute of individual free will. Nazism fell, fascism fell, communism fell and, wherever these systems resort to bloody means of maintaining themselves, they have failed because they cannot resist free will.

I was reminded of this when I saw my friend the member for Kooyong visit the harrowing grounds of Auschwitz 70 years after its liberation and I read the story of how that instance of history affected his family in a very personal way. It affected the lives of six million Jews of the nine million that had lived in Europe at that time. But, ultimately, through all that pain free will prevailed as it had to, as it should and as it will in the face of terrorism whether it occur on our shores or whether it occur elsewhere.

My friend the member for Kooyong will know it is not often that I quote Winston Churchill! But there can be no truer words expressed than when Churchill said:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

We may have our criticisms of the way we run ourselves, but we are all keen to preserve and enhance our way of life. We are also asking of our fellow citizens—and I make this important point, reflect on it and recognise its weight—to undertake a significant test: we are asking them to defy a natural human reaction in the wake of 15 December. It is a reaction guided by fear and provoked by the events of Martin Place. We cannot deny the anger that existed, because it would be like denying our own humanity.

In a day and age where faith is subjected to questioning—and in a modern, vibrant democracy it should be questioned and it should stay that way and be respected—I think faith does have some answers and can guide us in a very positive way. Despite differing faiths, we share this in common, be it your faith or mine: the one thing we share in common about faith is that it always urges us to be better than what we are. In fact, it says to us all that we should not succumb to the easy, indolent reaction of emotion, that we should be better than who we are. We should avoid the rush to hate, the retreat to defensiveness, the withdrawal from others and the false comfort that comes from an aggressive counter. We are being tested, and the question is: will we succumb?

In actual fact, that test is being played out as I speak in another part of the world where a few days ago, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, three young Muslims lost their lives. Some are urging us, rightly, not to rush to judgement, but the three young lives of these Muslim Americans who were killed execution style are prompting an outpouring of reaction and also prompting further thought. It was further thought that was carried in The Independent this week by Sabbiyah Pervez, who wrote in response some words that I think should guide and that go to the heart of the test that I mentioned a few moments ago. She said:

We have been collectively blamed—

referring to Muslim Americans—

scapegoated and attacked for not doing enough. In doing so we have lost sight of the simple fact that—

and I, importantly, reflect on this—

hate begets hate. The more you paint a community as foreign, as a threat, as outsiders, you risk dehumanising them. And this has happened to such an extent that when they are murdered, there is no desire to give them the same sort of attention we would otherwise give all victims of terror.

Very important words. We are being tested, but I say that, in my heart, the response I felt when I saw the way Sydney responded shows we have responded rightly to that test. Sydneysiders showed the breadth and the depth of their inner strength in responding to this act of terror, and I pay my respects to those families but also honour Sydneysiders for the outpouring that we witnessed straight after that.

In fact, I was honoured to be among that outpouring, and I thank the Leader of the Opposition and his wife, Chloe, for allowing me to attend on that day. On that day there was a moment where I have to say it seemed like grief would crush the chest as I looked at that blanket of flowers. I felt the pain and hurt that accompanied those bouquets as they were laid on the concrete of Martin Place. But then a surge of admiration overtook that and replaced that void, because I recognised what we were witnessing and what people were doing there. They were coming together and saying, 'We will be better. We will not allow terror to dictate the way we live our lives, and we will unite for something that is uniquely better.' It was a symbol of collectivism and unity that was truly special. As an individual MP, and for colleagues across party lines, we basically want to preserve and enhance the gift we have right here.

In closing, I want to extend on behalf of the more than 100,000 residents of Chifley the deepest condolences on the loss that was experienced by the Dawson and Johnson families, and the strongest expression of love and support to those who are forced to endure the unimaginable and the completely unacceptable. I also express, as my colleagues in this place have, an admiration for the New South Wales Police and other security agencies who worked in very trying circumstances on that day.

Out of this, in reflecting Churchill's words, let us rededicate ourselves to join together regardless of politics to perfectly defend the imperfect and to preserve and enhance what we have, because it is truly unique and it is something that at its heart, with free will, is worth defending.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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